Following a scary head injury to midfielder Malcolm Johnston, the No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer team was forced to finish out the final 11 minutes of the first period against Michigan State with an added emotional burden and without one of its best players.
The Terrapin’s offense was lacking one of its most talented players in Johnston, however, a few other forwards stepped up in a big way soon after his exit. Forwards Caden Stafford and Joshua Bolma went on to connect in a brilliant way in the 41st minute to keep Maryland afloat despite the loss of Johnston.
Stafford seemed to be setting up to send a scorcher towards the goal with his left foot, but instead, his tap pass to Bolma down the middle seam set up the redshirt freshman with a beautiful look at the goal.
The Spartans came roaring back with a quick goal to start off the second period, but midfielder Ben Bender scored once again in the 66th minute to silence Michigan State’s comeback effort.
The Terps finished out the game strong, prevailing 3-1 in a road victory over the Spartans despite facing plenty of adversity on Friday night in East Lansing, Michigan.
It was a superb start for the Terrapins as forward Brayan Padilla scored in the second minute of action — the quickest score of the season for Maryland.
Michigan State was the aggressor on the opening possession, with midfielder Jack Beck’s sending a shot over the top of the goal 37 seconds in. But Maryland’s rebuttal on freshman goalkeeper Lance McCrane put the Spartans in a tough hole early.
Holding the position of power so early in the match, Maryland didn’t lose its identity on offense as they were full pedal to the metal. That aggressiveness led to a free-kick opportunity right outside the box in the 14th minute, but it was to no avail.
The middle of the half waned away with not much offensive production from either side. Since Padilla’s unsuccessful free-kick attempt, no shots had been attempted for 26 minutes of gameplay as both teams’ midfielders kept set pieces to a minimum.
During this drought, a scary scene occurred in the 34th minute as forward Farai Mutatu’s bicycle kick attempt nailed Johnston in the back of the head, forcing a prolonged break in the action.
Johnston was stretchered off after 20 plus minutes away from action and the match resumed with the Terrapins playing with some added motivation. Mutatu was given a yellow card in response to the unintentional kick to the head.
With heavy hearts for its fallen teammate, the Terrapins executed a phenomenal passing exhibition against the Spartan defense, leading to a goal from Bolma to put Maryland up 2-0 heading into halftime.
It was Bolma’s fourth goal of the season, giving him seven points in conference play.
Coming out of the intermission, Michigan State jumped out to the quick start this time around. Forward Zack Babiak scored 1:21 into the half, giving the Spartans some life with a lot of game left to be played.
Michigan State kept up the pressure, eventually surpassing the Terrapins in the shot tally with a near-miss from Babiak in the 57th minute. Defender Will Perkins served up a perfect cross to Babiak right in front of the net, but his attempt rolled wide as the Terps caught a break.
Just a few minutes later, another prime opportunity for the Spartans failed to convert. Midfielder Michael Miller got past the Maryland defense, leading to goalkeeper Niklas Neumann meeting Miller out near the edge of the crease.
Miller’s flick over Neumann was skimmed by the keeper’s outstretched arms, freezing a moment in time for the defense to catch back up to Miller, who ultimately sent the rebound into the side of the net.
With the Spartans dictating the tone of the second half, Maryland needed a spark to hold off the furious effort from the home team. Enter Bender, who scored in his third straight outing off of the assist from forward Jacen Russell-Rowe.
Bender — who didn’t garner the start in place of the returning Johnston and defender Nick Richardson — provided the Terrapins enough of a cushion in the 66th minute to fend off this feisty second-half performance from Michigan State.
With the win, and Penn State losing 2-1 to Ohio State in Columbus, Maryland now sits atop the Big Ten ahead of a crucial two-game stretch against the Nittany Lions and Indiana.
The Terps head to Happy Valley on Tuesday before hosting Indiana on Oct. 31, setting up huge implications for the chase for home-field advantage in the Big Ten Tournament.
Three things to know
1. Malcolm Johnston went down with a scary injury. With just over 11 minutes remaining in the opening period, Johnston, who was making his return to the lineup after missing the previous two matches due to injury, was injured on a missed bicycle kick attempt by Mutatu. The force of Mutatu’s kick struck Johnston in the back of the head, forcing a stoppage in play for well over 20 minutes. Johnston was stretchered off but gave a thumbs up on his way off the pitch.
2. Maryland was playing on its heels in the second period. After a late score to end the first period, Maryland seemed on its way to an emotional victory against a tough Big Ten opponent. The injury to Johnston seemed to be an inspiration for the Terps initially, but the second half showed that it may have shaken them up a bit.
Michigan State was knocking on the door frequently in the second half as the lineup finished with a +5 shot disparity. Maryland’s defense held its ground, however, giving the team another boost to its footing in the Big Ten standings.
3. Niklas Neumann showed out once again. When asked before the team departed for East Lansing about the presence of Mutatu, the Big Ten leading goal scorer, Neumann made it a point to not underestimate the rest of the offense. His outlook on an aggressive Spartan offense helped serve up another masterful performance, continuing his streak of not allowing multiple goals.